Community Management & Drupal

Today’s Berkman Center lunch talk features Dries Buytaert discussing the website/content management software Drupal and its community.

Drupal’s popularity has increased significantly in the last 12 years to the point that about 1 in 50 sites uses it as a backend. Passionate developers from all over the world contribute to this open source software.

Buytaert shows a terrific photo of him working on Drupal in his Belgium dorm room, complete with a chess board, IKEA furniture, collected stamps, and programming books. He developed Drupal as a message board initially, then expanded it and responded to trends. He rewrote Drupal several times to make it more modular. People learned about it at first after going to his blog and asking him what software he used. He willingly shared the source code to allow others to develop for it. It began to take on a life of its own.

Screenshots from earlier versions show how much it has changed.

The first conference Buytaert organized was in 2005 in Antwerp. About 30 people attended. At the 2011 gathering in Chicago, 3200+ people attended. They rented the Sheraton in Chicago for a week. The community filled the hotel. Being able to have the entire building for the gathering was very helpful. People received Drupal pajamas in their welcome bag, so they could wander around in their pajamas. Ice cream appeared around 4 am in the mornings.

Buytaert’s experience with a server outage led him to post a PayPal link on with a message about how they needed to buy a new server and didn’t have the money. People donated lots of money. A manager at Sun Microsystems shipped him a powerful server because he had been following the project and wanted them to keep going. Several other organizations stepped up to help out because of their interest in Drupal and open source software.

They made a large poster to display at conferences showing the names of all the people and organizations that aided them inside a Drupal logo.

When he looks back, he thinks about how as a teenager, he wanted to finish high school and have a girlfriend. Then he considers everything that’s happened with Drupal and how much it’s grown. Then he wonders about the future.

He admits open source is a little broken at times. He cites the inability to come up with the funds to keep their server going as an example.

He founded the company Acquia because he knew Drupal needed more than just support from the open source community to take it where he wants to go. He recognizes that many organizations use Drupal because the price is right: it’s free. And since it’s open source, it’s incredibly customizable.

Community leads to innovation. Many people implement things about which he would never have dreamed, including Drupal socks, Drupal graffito, eggs colored with the Drupal logo, naked cyclists with Drupal stickers on their …, Drupal lager and wine and soup and bacon and cookies, tattoos, and … A community of people can make the difference between success and failure.

Keeping Drupal relevant is important to a lot of the developers.

Priorities shift as people have families and get older.

Buytaert shows computer pictures to illustrate progress in technology.

Some members of the Drupal community contribute to complementary open source projects, like PHP.

Some ways to attract community to your projects:
Give community members some freedom. Don’t micromanage. See what activities/projects of theirs rise to the top. They’ll come up with ideas you have not. Get out of the way. Ignore the inefficiencies of some community processes.

Big communities lose their ability to be nimble and make decisions quickly. It’s good to be able to hang on to those qualities.

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